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Birthright for Cops

Activist pressure persuades Mayor Narkewicz to cancel Chief Kasper’s trip to train with the Israeli army.

By Will Meyer and Jason Kotoch

On June 1st, Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper received an email from an employee of the Anti-Defamation League, a pro-Israel group that coordinates trips to the country for American law enforcement to be trained by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). Kasper was asked to go on an invite-only trip for 15 senior law enforcement officials from New England called the New England Counter-Terrorism Seminar, which is scheduled to take place during an undisclosed (redacted) stretch of time this December.

But due to pressure from Northampton residents, notably from activist group Jewish Voice for Peace and other allies, Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz announced Tuesday that Chief Kasper would be withdrawing from the trip in a statement saying, “Chief Kasper and I have both come to the conclusion that it is in the best interests of our city that she not participate in the National Leadership Seminar in Israel and as such she will be notifying the ADL New England of her decision to withdraw from the upcoming program later today.”

Kasper’s withdrawal came after a group of Northampton residents, including both Jews and Palestinians, met with the Mayor and police chief to express concerns about Kasper training with a military entity known for grave human rights abuses. The delegation included ex-Israeli military member and city councilor Alisa Klein, Palestinian-American author and musician Michel Moushabeck, city councilor Maureen Carney, Indian-American intellectual Vijay Prashad, Jewish Voice for Peace chapter leader Rachel Weber, and Rose Bookbinder from the Pioneer Valley Workers Center and Jobs with Justice.

“For us in Northampton to send our police chief to learn from the people who are conducting these brutal, ethnocidal practices is so counter to any values we should have here in Northampton,” Klein told The Shoestring, adding: “We [almost sent] our chief to a country that the U.N. general assembly just in June adopted a resolution that deplored the use of excessive and indiscriminate force by the Israeli military and police against occupied Palestinians.”

The decision comes after the Director of the Vermont State Police, Colonel Matthew Birmingham, also withdrew from the same “counter terrorism” seminar after a coalition led by Vermonters for Justice in Palestine raised similar objections.

The victories in both Vermont and Northampton are the result of a national campaign led by JVP to illuminate and expose the practice of what they dub “deadly exchanges” between the U.S. law enforcement and the IDF. “The…trainings have been going on for the past 15 years or so, where a wide range of U.S. law enforcement ranging from state police to local police to border patrol to ICE and other entities travel to Israel to train with Israeli security forces, at no expense to the U.S. government,” Rachel Weber from JVP told The Shoestring.

“JVP is an organization that is dedicated toward a future where U.S. foreign policy is governed by international human rights law and with a vision of social justice, peace, and self-determination for all people,” she said. “And particularly we organize for peace and dignity for Palestinians and Israelis, and against anti-semitism, islamophobia and racism.”

When asked for comment on her withdraw from the trip, Kasper told The Shoestring: “I don’t have general comments about it.”

According to emails between Northampton employees and the ADL provided to The Shoestring, ADL’s New England regional directors, Robert Trestan and Talia Ben Sasson-Gordis, laid out the framework for the trip: “The seminar will provide participants with the opportunity to learn prevention strategies and best practices to respond to incidents of terror and protect communities, with special emphasis on suicide bombing and securing transportation infrastructure, lone wolf attacks and working with the media in times of crisis.”

In order to go on the trip, Kasper first had to receive permission from Mayor David Narkewicz. In an email to Narkewicz, Kasper wrote, “I was honored and thrilled to receive this invitation,” and reminded the mayor that she had previously attended another ADL event in Washington D.C. called the “Advanced Training School in Extremist and Terrorist Threats.” In her email to Narkewicz, Kasper suggested that “while many are quick to associate terrorism with big cities, the reality is that lone wolf attacks at schools, colleges, religious centers, and at large-scale protests and marches, happen in communities of all sizes.”

Mayor Narkewicz did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

In the email, Kasper described the kind of threat the seminar would be addressing, writing, “Many of the individuals responsible for these types of attacks are sitting at home in their bedrooms developing their ideology and learning about attack strategies and weapons development via the internet.” Kasper mentioned to Narkewicz that she served on the Governor’s “anti-hate crime task force” with Trestan, the ADL official who invited her on the trip.

(Despite both the ADL’s and Kasper’s invocation of “lone wolf” attacks and reliance of the easy tropes of online extremism, it is worth noting that such rhetoric is not representative of the movements that produce extremism. For one, the term lone wolf has a cagey history. As noted in a Guardian piece titled “The Myth of the ‘lone-wolf’ terrorist,”  the term first appeared in the early twentieth century. However, its use today is directly tied to the white nationalist movements of the ‘80s and ‘90s which produced manifestos titled “Leaderless Resistance” and “Laws of the Lone Wolf” that were specifically written to obscure the politics behind white nationalist social movements. Still, white men pose a larger terrorist threat than any other group, and yet emails, between the ADL and Kasper and from Kasper to Narkewicz, do not mention the largest domestic terrorism threat by name. All this said, Narkewicz is on record as understanding the disproportionate threat posed by ideologically motivated white supremacist terrorists. When asked about the terrorist threat posed by white nationalists and why the ADL didn’t mention this threat in their materials, instead relying on the shoddy “lone-wolf” framework, Kasper didn’t offer a comment.)

Kasper told The Shoestring that hate crimes are the main reason a police official from Northampton would go on a trip like this. “We have quite an increase in hate crimes, you may have seen the recent report that said nationally there’s a 17 percent increase in hate crimes across the country. You probably have been following the news too and seen some of the events that been happening across the country. We keep an eye on those and we want to be best prepared for any events that could occur here,” she said. Alisa Klein, who attended the aforementioned meeting, told The Shoestring that trainings on hate crimes were the justification Kasper gave to the delegation who brought concerns to Mayor Narkewicz despite the fact that the ADL had billed the trip as a “counter terrorism” seminar. When asked during the meeting if she had an itinerary stating that the types of trainings during the week-long seminar, she said she didn’t have one, contradicting the assurance that she would be trained in hate crime prevention.

“Some of the places where people who go on these trainings visit are the sites of grave human rights abuses,” Weber said, highlighting itineraries that have leaked. “They visit airports, prisons, checkpoints. They also meet with leaders in different entities who have come under international condemnation for using techniques that amount to torture, for extrajudicial killings, and for subjecting [many] Palestinians to military law [where they are denied due process and their human rights].”

Not only is the IDF notorious for human rights abuses, rampant surveillance, and deadly suppression of social uprisings in the service of a military occupation that has been internationally condemned, it is responsible for training police and military bodies from all over the world. The IDF has trained U.S. federal agencies like Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), whose actions on the US, Mexico border this week have come under criticism when agents fired tear gas at migrants seeking refuge in the United States. State and local police have also received military training from IDF including departments from Ferguson, Baltimore, and Chicago, all of which have made headlines for the brutal police killings of black people and their widespread mistreatment of protestors.

“They [Israel security forces] are the go-to folks if law enforcement want to conduct surveillance of political protests, if they want to conduct surveillance of Muslims,” Weber said. “The Israeli military has been responsible for training right-wing military groups in dictatorships around the world, including in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, the places where a lot of immigrants in Northampton have had to flee home, in part because of unrest that was partially due to training by the Israeli military.”

But perhaps the best evidence of the trainings is the testimonials from law enforcement who have attended trainings with the IDF. One of the common stops on such trips, based on a sample itinerary reviewed by The Shoestring, is Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport known for its use of racial profiling. After Baltimore County Police Capt. Roman Zaryk attended the airport training, he told the Baltimore Sun, “Unlike in the United States, where racial and ethnic profiling is forbidden, Israeli airport officials explained how they use profiling to identify suspicious passengers, questioning them extensively and performing searches if necessary.” Maine State Police Chief Robert Williams concurred, telling the Bangor Daily News, about security in public places, such as shopping malls: “Everybody gets checked. They go through a metal detector and profiling is not a dirty word.”

Williams’ 2013 trip was led by Robert Trestan, the same ADL official who invited Kasper to participate in this year’s trip and serves on the Governor’s Hate Crime Task Force with Chief Kasper. Trestan, for his part, commenting on the relevance of the skills learned on these training for different police agencies, told the Bangor Daily News, “Some of the issues are different but the techniques [to deal with them] are the same.” And the techniques don’t stop at racial profiling. Williams learned how to “identify potential threats and neutralize them,” according to the same article, saying, “They call it riots and we called it civil unrest.” To neutralize protests, on May 14th of this year, the day the U.S. moved its embassy to Jerusalem, the IDF killed at least 50 Palestinians and wounded over 2,400 others.

Williams also learned about Israel’s hi-tech surveillance efforts. “The group went to Jerusalem and saw the massive video surveillance system used by local police to keep the peace,” the article states. Williams told the reporter that “In Jerusalem, they have a system of 200 cameras, […] In the old part of the city, they can follow you anywhere. […] it was like Star Wars compared to what we do.” A common feature of these trips is tours of companies that provide technology and surveillance equipment to the military. When a delegation from the LAPD toured Nice Systems, an Israeli cybersecurity company that can “intercept and instantly analyze video, audio and text-based communication,” a perhaps tongue-in-cheek poster read: “Every voice deserves to be heard.”

Kasper’s mindset towards policing is oriented around terrorism and her writing and tenure as chief suggests as much.

Last year, Kasper’s proposal to install police operated surveillance cameras was ultimately halted by community opposition. This year The Shoestring reported on the NPD’s drone program, which has been used at at least one demonstration. The city of Northampton also requested federal 1033 money to purchase surveillance equipment.

In her 2010 book, Progressive Police Supervision, Kasper wrote about the importance of moving away from “community policing” and towards a more terrorism focused approach, writing: “However, in this new era with a focus on homeland security, terrorism and fear, it is imperative that administrators move away from community policing by extracting the successful strategies that it provided and applying them to current practices.” In that vein, she posed the following questions to police administrators:

  • Are you prepared for an attack on [y]our city’s schools?
  • Are you prepared for an anthrax exposure?
  • Are you prepared for an attack using biological warfare?
  • Can you provide adequate safety for major events in your community?
  • Are officers properly trained for these new threats?
  • Can your agency handle a critical incident similar to the attacks in New York City?

Kasper invoked terrorism during her community forum on surveillance cameras, suggesting that cameras should be installed because there might be a terrorist attack during the Hot Chocolate Run. Earlier this year, when defending the NPD’s routine purchase of riot gear—such as helmets, shields, and “less-lethal” weapons—Kasper leaned heavily on the hypothetical threat of a terrorist attack, writing in the third sentence of a memo about the purchases that “after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, there was a renewed focus on preparedness for mass casualty and large-scale events and on the protection of first responders at those scenes.”

Despite being a leader in all-expenses paid trips for law enforcement to train with a militarized police force that is known for suppressing dissent and racial profiling (and being sadistic), the flowery rhetoric on the ADL’s website suggests a very different kind of organization: one that lifts up democracy, LGBTQ rights, fights racism and hatred, works to reform the criminal justice system, and stands up to the Trump administration. Trump, for his part, donated approximately $56,000 to the ADL over the course of ten years. “These undoubtedly were sincere gifts,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the ADL, told the Huffington Post. “But in light of the recent campaign, we have decided to redirect the total amount of funds that he contributed to ADL over the years specifically into anti-bias education programs that address exactly the kind of stereotyping and scapegoating that have been injected into this political season.” Despite talk of standing up to Trump, the ADL is still responsible for training ICE, and it’s not a stretch to say that Trump still approves of their work: “I think profiling is something that we’re going to have to start thinking about as a country… you look at Israel and you look at others, they do it and they do it successfully.”

“I think what happened here with this trip is more about how dangerous the PR campaign of the ADL and the Israeli government has been. For me, that’s the big takeaway of the fact that Northampton almost sent—this supposedly progressive town almost sent its police chief to go participate in a training with an occupying army,” Weber said.

Adding, “Anti-semitism is a real thing. And racism is a real thing. And islamophobia is a real thing. And the ADL has done some good work on building curriculum on fighting racism and having some language to call out anti-semitism and islamophobia and racism when we see it; the problem is the ADL also has a very strong relationship with Israel and also sees part of its mission as… adopt[ing] this definition of anti-semitism that includes criticism of Israel as a government.”

“I would strongly disagree that criticism of the Israeli government is terror, but that is how it’s being spun right now. When you see movements that lash out at students on campuses for asking their universities to divest from investments in Israel, when you see that being labeled as hate speech or as terrorism, that’s an incredibly dangerous road to go down,” Weber said.

Northampton and Vermont have been part of a wave of US cities and states that have begun challenging these training excursions, arguing that a militarized police force has no place on American streets. On April 16th of this year, activists and community organizers along with the mayor of Durham, North Carolina successfully moved the city council to ban its police from training with the IDF, saying in a resolution that “The council opposes international exchanges with any country in which Durham officers receive military-style training since such exchanges do not support the kind of policing we want here in the City of Durham.” Despite objections from the city council as well as grassroots pressure, Washington D.C.’s Metropolitan Police did send a delegation to Israel on an ADL trip in 2017.

“I’m incredibly grateful to the Mayor for listening to these issues and engaging in this very complicated topic and ultimately making the right decision,” Weber said. “As time goes on, it will be made more and more clear that this decision is on the right side of justice.”

Will Meyer is co-editor of The Shoestring. (Photo: Devin Asch/Wikimedia Commons)

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